The forgotten victims of Nepal's civil war

Published on : 12 April 2012 - 4:35pm | By Aletta André (Photo by Aletta André)

Nepal's struggling peace process may have reached its final stages with the deadline for a new constitution fast approaching. But for thousands of people, peace constitutes much more than a new constitution. For them, any transition is not complete without justice for the many victims of human rights violations committed in the name of war.
The peace process began in 2006 when the Maoists ended their decade-long insurgency against the monarchy and joined parliamentary democracy in 2006. This week, the cantonments of former Maoist combatants and their weapons came under control of the Nepal army. 
Also, a new constitution should come into force before the current Interim Constiution expires on 28 May.
But thousands of people are waiting for something else - justice for their loved ones who were the victims of severe human rights violations.
Fight for justice
“Sometimes I’m out of money or have to walk on bare feet, but I will always continue my fight for justice.” Devi Sunuwar (pictured), a chubby, youthful woman sits on the bed in her one-room flat, above the tea stall she runs in
Kathmandu. While speaking, she holds a tarnished picture of her daughter Maina. In 2004, at the age of fifteen, Maina was taken from her by the Nepali army.
The soldiers were actually looking for Devi, who lead a local protest against human rights abuses by the army, but when she was not home they took the school girl instead. Maina never returned. Devi, along with human rights lawyers, suspects that Maina was tortured to death, but this has never been officially confirmed.
Around 16,000 people were killed during the civil war in Nepal and over 1400 people are still missing, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The conflict ended with a permanent cease fire in 2006.
According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN(M)) signed with the government of
Nepal in November 2006, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was going to be set up to record and probe serious human rights violations.
But over five years later, no agreement has yet been reached regarding the exact role of this commission. The major political parties argue in favour of blanket amnesty, while activists believe prosecution of the perpetrators should remain possible.
“By providing blanket amnesty to everyone you cannot address the problem of impunity, which is deeply rooted in
Nepal”, says human rights lawyer Mandira Sharma, who in 2001 founded the organisation Advocacy Forum to offer legal aid to victims of the conflict.
A recent joint report by Advocacy Forum and Human Rights Watch, published in March, lists perpetrators of human rights violations who since 2006 have been part of the Nepali government, have received international scholarships and even have been sent on UN peace keeping missions.
“No one who is in power and has committed crimes is being held accountable”, says Sharma. “When you see these people roaming around like this, how do you feel secure or safe?”
Full truth
In response to the argument that prosecution will delay the peace process, she says: “Prosecution should be part of the peace process. We work with thousands of victims and for them, the peace process is getting the full truth; it means that the state is making sure that it will not happen again, and also providing them justice.”
Samir Hadzimustafic of the local International Committee of the Red Cross delegation says the same. The ICRC has been offering psychological aid to the family members of missing persons since 2010. “Apart from knowing the full truth, we found that it is often important for the family members to see justice being done.”
Marriage and murder
Sabitri Shrestha has been fighting for this since 1998. Her brother Ujjan was murdered that year by Balkrishna Dhungel, a local politician who later joined the Maoists. Dhungel did not agree with Ujjan’s marriage to his sister, because they belonged to a different caste.
Ujjan’s body was never found. When Sabitri’s other brother Ganesh tried to file a case, he was also killed. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court found Dhungel guilty of murder and ordered a life-time imprisonment.
However, he is still free and even more, he's now a member of parliament.
“I don’t know what to do anymore”, cries Sabitri, who runs a mountain trekking agency from home. “I feel terrible, defeated and also scared. I truly believe that if there hadn't been this much attention for the case by media and activists, me and all my other family members would by now have been murdered as well.”
“This is a mockery of justice”, Advocay Forum's Mandira Sharma says. “If at all consensus has to be made, at minimum, the court orders should be respected.”
She points out that successive governments until now have withdrawn over 600 cases from the conflict period, including for murder and rape. “Without rule of law, we can't think of introducing democracy, we cannot think and dream of lasting peace, and we cannot think of development and progress.”

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